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A letter in response to "Candor is a likely casualty in this race" by Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press

Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press is one of my favorite columnists among those that write for the Detroit papers. I often find myself agreeing with his views. Yet, like so many writers and talk radio hosts that share some of my views, I find that he often points out a problem while missing a chance to point out the solution.

On July 24, 2002, as Michigan's gubernatorial primary debates were in progress, I read a column entitled Candor is a likely casualty in this race by Dickerson. In it, he explains how at a time when the state budget was in bad shape, and raising taxes and cutting important programs the only options, the Democratic candidates refused to discuss hard facts about budget cuts and priorities, preferring to simply dodge these important questions. He then goes on to explain how the only candidate truly willing to discuss these topics, Republican Joe Schwarz, was nonetheless unable to win simply because he didn't focus his campaign on raising money.

This article brings up a number of the key political issues that I find important. The "conspiracy of silence" that major party candidates often share on important issues - in this case required budget cuts by the next governor - can only be wedged open by including other candidates from other parties in open debates and allowing all candidates free, uncensored airtime. The "wasted vote" syndrome that Dickerson discusses can be eliminated through Instant Runoff Voting. And the focus on money in campaigns, which drowns out the voices of important candidates who choose to run on issues rather than spend their time fundraising - like Joe Schwarz - is the evidence of the desperate necessity for clean elections.

I wrote the following letter back to Dickerson, focusing here on just one of those aspects raised by his article - the exclusion of third party candidates from debates. Allowing those candidates into the debates would force the major party candidates to address important issues that may be so uncomfortable to them that, on their own, they would simply both refuse to bring them up.

Brian, I love reading your column each day. Today's brought up some increasingly familiar feelings for me. How many times can I hear people basically lay out the entire argument for why third party inclusion is so important, while at the same time not even mentioning it? Of course, the gubernatorial candidtes in "either party" are going to simply dodge the issues. Is this really a surprise to anyone anymore? This is why, regardless of their chance to win the race, it is crucial that candidates such as Douglas Campbell of the Green Party be included in debates and given serious media coverage. Many claim that covering such a candidate doesn't make sense because he has little support or chance to win. I believe this is a self-fulfilling prophecy and it is the very lack of media coverage that ensures that this cycle perpetuates.

In March, several entities (I believe the Free Press included) sponsored an environmental forum with "all the candidates for governor". Mr. Campbell was not invited, despite being a member of the party with the platform most focused on the environment. His important views were not heard. Then, the League of Women's Voters planned another forum, to which he was not invited (this forum was subsequently cancelled). Scripps stations, including Channel 7 WXYZ TV, promised candidates free airtime, but upon speaking with Chuck Stokes there, refused to let Mr. Campbell have it. In each case the reason given was that he was not involved in a primary race. This is a hypocritical excuse since it is the two parties who have created laws disallowing parties like the Green party from having primaries. They then use this Catch-22 to maintain exclusivity in public forums.

However, with the primary about to take place and be past, the time for those excuses is ending. It is my hope that you and others in the local press will end this self-fulfilling prophecy by ensuring that Mr. Campbell, and all other fairly and responsibly filed candidates are given fair attention and the chance to be heard during the general election campaign. This is, I believe, the only way that we will see hard questions about the environment, corporate malfeasance, and a host of other unpopular topics given the true discussion that they deserve. Instead of complaining that the major party candidates dodge issues, why not fight it by offering the other candidates a chance to address those issues candidly?

Thank you,
Dr. Howard Ditkoff
Oak Park, MI

I never did receive a response to this letter. During the general election cycle, Douglas Campbell was allowed to have a few minutes on WXYZ where he was interviewed by Chuck Stokes, but that was about the extent of the freely-given major media coverage that his campaign received. In fact, the most major media coverage he received was when he attended one of the events to which he was not invited and refused to leave, leading to his arrest and a rib-breaking physical removal. These are the lengths that minor party candidates need to go to these days simply to have their existence recognized. Thankfully, in a few states, such as California, third party candidates have been increasingly included in debates and given media attention.

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